English 1201-zgc 3 December 2001



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Stephanie Green

Dr. Oguine

English 1201-ZGC

3 December 2001

Declining Ethics in American Culture

It is unfortunate to see how ethics in the American culture are constantly declining. People’s moral values are below normal societal standards, which is why, the older generations are outraged by the way things are now, and become rather upset and feel disturbed towards society. Furthermore, religion has lost its value throughout the years. In the essay, "Do Kids Need Religion?" by Anthony Brandt, he underlines the idea of how religion is not properly taught or provided to children. In Wendy Shalit’s essay, "The Future of Modesty," she discusses how much modesty has reached its worst in the younger generations, however society is beginning to raise these standards once again. Nonetheless, education has also lost its honor code. Mark Clayton calls attention to how cheating is becoming incredibly common among students throughout the United States in his essay, "A Whole Lot of Cheatin’ Going on." In fact, it is obvious that American culture is declining fast in ethics, especially in religion, dating, and education.

First, religion has often played an important role in people’s lives, however its significance continues to decrease in recent decades. Parents do not pass on faith or beliefs onto their children, because most parents do not have faith or beliefs. These parents believe it would be hypocritical to teach their children about being spiritual, when they are not spiritual themselves. Children often go to their parents with questions regarding matters such as death, life, and God, but "Western culture is so secularized that parents can evade or dismiss 'religious' questions without feeling that they’re merely getting themselves off the hook" (Brandt 193). In contrast with today’s society, back in the old days, most Americans sought enlightenment in faith and religion. Today many people question religion, and even "spokesmen, leaders, and so on do not have the kind of influence and impact on people’s lives that they would have a generation or two ago" (News Hour 2). It is up to parents to instill faith in their kids; this way children can turn to their religion in time of need. As Brandt says, "many [parents] are proud to be without religion whose children cannot afford their being without it" (194). However, in today’s modern culture, as Brandt adds, "Morality can survive without religion, it appears; children can be taught the importance of right versus wrong without benefit of religious training" (139). So, Americans are beginning to turn away from the church, and do not rely on the church as much as they did many years ago.

Secondly, "Everyday, it seems, another girl is assaulted in school," says Wendy Shalit in her essay "The Future of Modesty" (214). It is horrifying to say such a thing, but it is reality. "In the nineteen fifties, I was not afraid of being raped; I was afraid of being talked about" says Shalit (214). In fact, modesty has extremely dropped in value throughout time. In a liberal society as ours, anything goes. Teenagers are very open about their sexuality, however, they "are not emotionally ready to make judgment about the quality of intimate responsibility for their actions" (Religion-online 2). So, teens have such liberal views on life that their decisions often reflect poor moral judgment. "Young people’s values are more continuous with those held by the important adults in their lives," which is why it is very important for parents to be good role models for their children (Religion-online 4). Being open about sex is not a bad thing, because more information provided to teenagers means that they are more aware of the consequences, and they will most likely be well prepared and more cautious, but often such knowledge is misused.

Moral values have reached such a nadir that it cannot go any lower, but rather it will begin to rise. "Today’s kids want to return to an era of courteousness. Plus, this is more than just manners. It deals with improving your self-image and self esteem" (Strauss qtd. in Shalit 217). Teens are learning that "dignity" and "social grace" is very important (Shalit 217). They are also learning how to carry themselves, and having respect for themselves. Because, if they do not respect themselves, then who will? Fashion lately reflects upon this attitude, "it’s not always the most revealing style that sends temperatures soaring," women want "a style which leaves more than a little to the imagination" (Shalit 218). But now, women are opening their eyes to the fact that they are worth more than what they settle for sometimes. They no longer feel the need to lower their standards in order to gain some attention and comfort. Shalit says in her essay, "I don’t want to have sex because 'I guess' I want it. I want to wait for something more exciting that that, and modesty helps me understand why" (219). This refers to the fact that the value of modesty is returning to the younger generations, and beginning to retake its worth in society, so, there is hope the declining ethics will rise.

Thirdly, cheating is completely immoral, but unfortunately in today’s world people could not be bothered on whether cheating is dishonest and depraved. When looking for an easy way out, "Cheating is the answer, it might not be a good answer, but none the less it is an answer" (Clayton 139). Students tend to resort to cheating simply because they find their courses too difficult, and cheating helps them pass the class. The pressure put on children by their parents is what drives them to cheat. What happens to the prestigious honor codes that schools have? Sadly, no one truly cares for them. However, the students are the ones hurting themselves by cheating. They need to know the material in order to continue ahead, but they will have nothing to base their knowledge on if they cheat. As Clayton puts it in his essay, "Nobody wants somebody building bridges to take shortcuts" (189). In the real world cheating will not get anyone anywhere. It is unethical to cheat, and dishonesty has its price that cheaters will have to pay for in the end.

Finally, ethics have come to mean nothing to the American culture. In today’s liberal society, no one cares for the rules. How can people live in a society without standards? Something has to be done in order to stop this rapid decline in ethics. On the other hand, Americans are beginning to wake up to the fact that society needs ethics and morals. Because, after reaching the lowest point in society there is nowhere to go but straight up. Therefore, Americans need to have their values reassessed, and it seems as though they are beginning to realize the need to raise the ethical standards of American culture.

Works Cited

Brandt, Anthony. "Do Kids Need Religion." The Presence of others: Voices and Images that Call for Response. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz. New York: St. Martin’s 2000. 191-198.

Clayton, Mark. "A Whole Lot of Cheatin’ Going On." The Presence of others: Voices and Images that Call for Response. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz. New York: St. Martin’s 2000. 185-189.



News Hour Online. "Religion in America." 2 Dec. 2001 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/.

Religion-Online. "Teen-age Sexuality and Public Morality." 2 Dec. 2001 http://www.religion-online.org/.

Shalit, Wendy. "The Future of Modesty." The Presence of others: Voices and Images that Call for Response. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford, John J. Ruszkiewicz. New York: St. Martin’s 2000. 214-220.


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